When we think of Burgess Meredith, we tend to associate him with the Penguin in the original Batman, or as the hapless librarian in the Twilight Zone episode "Time Enough at Last," or perhaps as the veteran cornerman in Rocky, for which he received an Oscar nomination. But in February 1965, he's co-starring with James Franciscus in the high school drama Mr. Novak, where he plays Principal Martin Woodridge.
Meredith has come to the series in its second and last season, as a replacement for the ailing Dean Jagger, who was forced to leave due to an ulcer. It is hoped that Meredith's character will inject some tension into the series; Jagger, as Principal Albert Vane, had been more of a father-figure, and Woodridge's introduction figures to inject some conflict with the idealistic Novak. (It doesn't work, or at least not enough to boost the ratings; Meredith appears for 17 episodes, after which the show is cancelled.)
It's considered quite the coup to attract Meredith to series television; he'd previously turned down series such as The Travels of Jamie McPheeters, and is known much more as a Broadway actor and director. His TV guest shots, including four appearances on Twilight Zone, have been memorable, but he's well aware of the difficulties facing veteran actors. "Let's face it, I live high," he tells Dwight Whitney. "I raise jumping horses, Kaja [his wife] flies airplanes. The younger people don't know who I am. And that, in this day and age, is essential."
So Novak is not the show that will bring Burgess Meredith to prominence among the younger generation. But just wait a couple of years, and that will change. . .
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